Friday, February 13, 2009

What's the Problem with Michael Phelps Smoking Pot?

By Andrew Faris

A lot of us by now have seen the picture of Michael Phelps smoking a bong.

One question for all the non-Christians who are on him for being a bad example: why do you care? In a culture that is always willing to pull out the "we all did it in college" stamp of approval (you know, for people like the president, who practically got hailed as an everyman for admitting to it), why does it matter?

"Well he's a bad example to all the kids" they say. But since we apparently don't care if those kids grow up and smoke pot anyway, what exactly is Phelps a bad example of? Maybe he is actually a great example of how to manage recreational drug usage and career success. After all, he apparently waited until after winning eight gold medals to smoke dope- or at least he never got caught for it before that. Thataway to keep success first and pot smoking second, Mike!

To me this whole thing is just another case of total moral confusion in a pluralistic society. The moral outrage that has ensued is assumed to be reasonable. No one gets mad at you for getting mad at Michael Phelps- of course we should all be disappointed, right? But I don't know what I'd be disappionted about if I wasn't a Christian.

Heck, as a Christian I'm definitely not disappointed because I don't consider Michael Phelps (or any other ultra-successful athlete, musician, politician, or even philanthropist) to be a hero anyway. Impressive, yes. A model of discipline, yes. But not a hero. I look up to Piper, Mahaney, Carson, and a few personal mentors because they point me to Jesus and his kingdom. And if I didn't look up to people who pointed me to Jesus, I'd have no principles that Phelps would be violating.

And I'll tell you this much: eight gold medals or not, I'm sure not surprised to find out that humans sin. Whatever else there is to say about Phelps, in some ways he is apparently just like everyone else.


Anonymous said...

I think you are off-track in drawing a distinction between Christians and non-Christians in this instance. Non-Christians who don't consider drugs or alcohol/drunkenness to be sinful are certainly capable of believing that, say, children should avoid them, and believing that the media shouldn't promote them. I see nothing hypocritical about that. Saying "you'll be punished in the afterlife if you do X, Y or Z" or "you'll disappoint God if you do X, Y or Z" is a Christian response, but saying "you'll damage your brain/liver/heart if you do X, Y or Z" or "you'll have trouble doing well in school if you do X, Y or Z" are perfectly reasonable responses too.

Christians would do well to recognize that non-Christians can live moral lives and can oppose dangerous, reckless, unhealthy behaviors. We hope non-Christians will turn to Christ--and we understand that's a very wide gulf between us and them--but it's not so wide as to suggest that non-Christians could find nothing to be upset about when Michael Phelps is shown with a bong to his lips.

Andrew Faris said...


Fair point, generally, but my point is that most of the non-Christian world is totally fine with pot-smoking for college age people. It's not that they shouldn't consider it harmful or that some don't, it's just that since most don't actually care whether Phelps-aged people smoke pot, what kind of example are they worried about?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reply Andrew. A couple questions: Why do you think "most of the non-Christian world is fine..." with Phelps? Hasn't he lost endorsements and hasn't the media attention been negative? I'm suspicious when non-Christians make statements about what "most Christians" believe or feel, and this seems similarly reductive. My second question: do you think Christians and non-Christians draw similar, or different, conclusions about alcohol use?

I hope my tone doesn't seem disrespectful--I'm truly interested in your responses.

Andrew Faris said...


No disrespect taken, and thanks for the response.

1. He actually hasn't lost "most" of his endorsements. Kellog's pulled out, and I think I heard of one more, but that's it as far as I know.

And what I said was that most non-Christians are ok with pot-smoking in and around college age, not that they're ok with Phelps. In fact, my whole point is that they're not ok with Phelps's pot-smoking, and I'm not sure why.

As evidence of that, note that they didn't mind that the president smoked pot and the general attitude towards pot, which is pretty much that they won't prosecute it if you aren't big time because it's harmless fun. Admittedly some of my reason for thinking that is anecdotal, but it really does seem clear to me that most non-Christians are fine with that kind of pot smoking.

2. Regarding endorsements, even if he lost most of them, an endorsement is by nature an advertisement. So if the general public, rational or not, reacts negatively to Phelps, then the company no longer gains from endorsing him. In that sense, for better or for worse, they are only a reflection of popular moral attitudes whether they are logical or not. Kellogg's might be a good example of the kind of attitude I'm talking about: a lot of cereals are marketed to kids (thus most have associated characters), and since people are worried that kids could get wrong ideas, then Kellogg's has to stay kid-friendly and pull the endorsement.

Athletic companies haven't pulled their endorsements because most of their customers don't care that he smoked pot- they care that he won gold medals, and again, are fine with pot-smoking.

I hope I've been reasonably clear here.

3. It's hard to say what Christians think of alcohol these days. Older Christians attach a lot more stigma to it than younger ones, that's for sure. I thin it's pretty mixed.

My impression is that non-Christians don't care as long as you aren't killing anyone with your car or ruining your family.

Why do you ask?


Anonymous said...

Hey Andrew--

Thanks for the thoughtful response--I can see that I misunderstood your original post.

I asked the question about alcohol because I wondered whether, in your split between "Christians care about this" and "non Christians don't care about this" you were accounting for Christian attitudes towards alcohol. I mean, I grew up in the "Bible belt" where a drop of consumption was, I was told, going to send me straight to hell. (The local Catholic church was powerfully condemned for using wine in their Communion service.) Now I worship at what I believe to be a Bible-believing church, and yet I go out for drinks with many of my fellow church members. So I wonder: are Christians supposed to believe that amber ales and single malts are ok, but pot is sinful? And if so, why? Because of the legality? Or do we think that one can drink single malt or dark beer and not indulge in drunkenness, while a huff off a bong pipe is sure to inebriate, and therefore that's the distinction?

I really appreciate you and this web site bring these contemporary issues into focus--it's fascinating to me to consider these questions---


Andrew Faris said...


This issue is simple:

Guinness and many other stouts along with most other UK ales (including but not limited to Boddington's, Tetley's, and Newcastle) are gifts from the Lord because He loves us.

Light beers and I.P.A.'s are from the devil, except Sam Adams Light, which isn't half bad.

See, easy.

Something more thoughtful to follow, but I just got home from the pub with my fiancee and it's Friday night and I'm not much in the mood to think more seriously for a few minutes. On that note, ever had Belhaven Stout? I had it for the first time tonight- it's great.


Anonymous said...

I have not tried Belhaven Stout, but I'll put it on my list and order it next chance I get! Thanks!

Carrie Allen said...

And most non Christians smoke pot on a regular basis anyway sooooo ya. ;-)